Ghosts. The disembodied spirits of the dead. The inexplicable intelligence that animates living tissue and continues to exist after hearts shutdown and organs cease. Do they walk the earth? Are they real? As a kid I thought so. Now? I don’t know really. Little did I know one day I was going to find myself in ghost central – a crossroad in the realm of the living dead.
In 2004 I was working at Salt Lake Regional Medical Center in downtown Salt Lake City. My office was on the fifth and top floor in an office building on the property. That building, known as the Moreau Building, was built in the 1940’s and was originally used as a dormitory and living quarters for the nuns that previously ran the facility. Salt Lake Regional, “The Rege” only gained that name in 1994 and was previously known as Holy Cross Hospital.
I had been there about a week. I was working late, probably it was around 9 PM. I figured I needed to put in some extra hours to get myself up to speed with the new job and everything I needed to do. It seemed I was the only person still inside the Moreau building and I definitely knew I was the only one left on my floor. The fifth floor. Most of the Moreau building was vacant – and the accounting department was the only active department on the entire fifth floor. The remainder was only used for storage.
Being next to the elevator I quickly learned when someone was coming to our office because I could hear the noisy back elevator start up. I wondered if they stuck us in such an out of the way place so they could just forget we existed, unless administration wanted something. This arrangement also had its benefits, we were out of sight and out of mind.
Then I heard a door slam.
It was late and I was alone in the building, or so I thought. The door I heard was on my floor, and not far away. Nobody ever came up here. Why was someone up here this time of night? And why had I not heard the elevator?
I tip-toed out into the drab hallway. Because no other offices were being used, administration had not bothered to decorate this hall. There were no plants and no pictures – just a long narrow hallway with about a dozen doors. All shut.
I checked them all. Each door was locked tight. “Maybe someone was up here in one of the storage rooms and got what they needed and left”, I spoke to no one. Maybe it was the wind, even though I knew it wasn’t. I went back to my office and being only slightly unsettled I dove back into a spreadsheet.
Then it slammed again! Louder this time.
Only about five minutes after my check of all the hallway doors it had happened again! This time it was loud and was clearly done with some force. With purpose. It seemed to originate only a couple of doors down from me. It wasn’t simply weird anymore, it was an attack by disembodied demons from the pits of hell . Whatever concentration I had was gone, dead and buried in thoughts of evil possessed zombies with spinning heads and bloody, dripping fangs. And they were coming for me. I practically ran out of the building.
It was the last time I ever worked there after dark by myself.
A couple of days later I saw Scott the security guard and told him the story. I expected surprise. At least some concern. I got neither. What I got was, “You just met Sister Augusta. Don’t worry she’s harmless.”
Scott the security guard was practically a walking corpse himself. He had worked there for 35 years. I think he wore the same black suit and white shirt for all those 35 years. He was tall and thin, and spoke with a slow deep voice. Think Lurch from the Adams Family. “Sister Augusta is our ghost” he explained.
Holy Cross hospital was built in 1875 and operated by the Sisters of the Holy Cross, a group of nuns who ran the facility for over a hundred years. The original building had been torn down and rebuilt in 1912 and over the many years many iterations of the facility had been added or removed leaving the campus in quite a bizarre tangle of old and new.
The Moreau building was added to the grounds along with an underground tunnel connecting the nun’s dormitory to the hospital. In the area of the tunnel were weird rooms and chambers, with a maze of abandoned hallways going off in every direction. Water dripped. Weird smells emanated from each tunnel. Who knows what lived (or died) in the catacombs. What was their purpose? When Elizabeth Smart was missing for a year we joked that she was probably wandering in the tunnels of The Rege, unable to find her way out.
Above the ground, the convoluted buildings were just as strange. Stairways terminated into solid walls. Dusty storage rooms filled with ancient records and unused furniture went seemingly untouched for years. The Moreau building (“The Building of Dr. Moreau” as one of my accountants called it) also had its quirks and secret places. On the way to the roof was a large creepy black room with no windows we called the “tower dungeon”. On the lower level was the huge room, previously utilized by the nuns as a cafeteria, now remodeled into a conference room. Behind the back wall in the conference room was another dusty, abandoned dungeon filled with moth-eaten documents and records. Little did I realize a year from that time, we’d be looking for, and finding, a ghost in that very room. If any buildings on earth harbored an army of the dead, it was these. Weirdness and unknown chambers existed everywhere. If I were a ghost, Salt Lake Regional would be my Cancun.
Scott the frankenstein-like security guard explained that Sister Augusta was the original charge nurse at Holy Cross. She had lived her entire life in this hospital and worked as a nurse here for almost 75 years until the day she died. He went on to relate several stories of people who had seen her walking the halls in the hospital’s East Wing, the tunnels and the Moreau building. Some claimed she actually spoke to them only to for her to disappear when they looked away. Others had seen Sister Augusta’s silhouette in windows of the East Wing, her nun’s habit clearly visible. Scott himself claimed to follow her down a hallway one night. Makes sense. If I lived and worked every day of my life in a hospital for 75 years my ghost would also stay behind and wander the halls because, well, I just wouldn’t know anything else.
The East Wing, along with the Chapel were the only remaining buildings from the 1912 reconstruction. The restored Chapel is absolutely beautiful, with amazing original artwork and stained glass. It is on the historic register and is a place everyone should visit if they get a chance.
Alternatively, the East Wing was rarely used. After relocating the business office to the Moreau building, about the only remaining hospital department in the East Wing was the sleep lab. It was perfect for the sleep lab as it was always quiet and rarely would anyone bother the few staff and their patients. Strangely enough the only complaint heard from patients was “a nun” that occasionally came into their room late at night, although no video of such a person, or thing, ever showed up on the recording equipment.
The third floor of the East Wing was used for many years until the late 80’s as a psych ward. Many times when I was bored I’d wander down there and check out some of the rooms and equipment. Several had heavy steel doors with tempered glass inserts. Windows had been all replaced with unbreakable plexiglass. There was a “quiet” room. This room, lined in padding, had recessed lighting, four walls, a floor and nothing else. Sometimes I’d tease my staff – if they got out of hand I’d lock them in that room. Give them time out for a while.
Scott the security guard told stories about the psych unit. He said, sometimes late at night the main switchboard still gets calls from the third floor mental ward – from extensions that no longer exist and haven’t existed for 20 years. Naturally, when the switchboard operator answers the line nothing is heard but static.
The most bizarre feature of the East Wing was an interior spiral staircase that wound clockwise from the basement up to the fifth floor. One could stand at the top of those stairs and look down through the building to the floor five stories below. Legend has it a mental patient once jumped off from the third floor to the concrete below, clipping one of the brass railings with his skull on the way down. I saw the dent in the railing. It was still there, so I may as well believe it happened.
In 2005 administration announced plans to demolish the East Wing and build a brand new medical office building. In the days that followed the press release I got a call from a woman claiming to be a ghost hunter. She wanted to do a paranormal study in the East Wing before it was torn down. I don’t remember her name but I do remember her last name sounded like “Morticia” so that’s what we called her. She explained that spirits become more active once they become aware their normal surroundings are going to change dramatically. It seemed now would be a perfect time for a ghost hunt.
We were going to find the ghost of Sister Augusta!
Morticia arrived on an October night. It was breezy, the fall leaves were rustling in the wind. It was a bit chilly. She came with two helpers, cameras, tape recorders and a variety of high tech equipment used for testing electrical and magnetic fields. She also brought some divining rods. Like Freddy, Shaggy, Scooby and the rest of the gang we were going to catch us a ghost! Zoinks!
For the next three hours we went from hall to hall and room to room in search of the undead. We crept through the East Wing, the catacombs, the morgue, the chapel and all the various creepy and secret locations. We took hundreds of pictures and recorded the entire hunt on cassette tape. Occasionally, Morticia would stop us, ask for silence, and verbally call forth the dead. We listened intently for a reply from ghosts we knew were there. They taunted us by remaining silent. I got the feeling these ghosts were silently laughing at us.
Eventually we found ourselves in the Moreau building old cafeteria (new conference room). We turned on one bank of fluorescent lights and stood in the center of the room. Morticia asked me if I would like to try the divining rods. Sure. I’ll use them. I’ll find that old nun, watch me.
Morticia instructed me to take these two metal rods, each bent at a 90 degree angle with swivel handles. I was to follow the direction they led me until I reached a point where they crossed. “What happens when they cross?” I asked. “It means you’ve reached a location exhibiting psychic energy” she explained. “It means something important happened there”.
Cool. I’ll do it, I thought. I took hold of the rods and followed them as they led me in a lazy right-handed arc across the large room. As I approached the wall on the right side, they crossed!
Morticia asked me to stop there. She took a photo. Then she looked at the tiny screen on the digital camera and said “Isn’t that weird?”
Huh? What’s weird?
“Look at that shadow” said Morticia. “It’s in the wrong place”. We all came to look. As we crowded around the tiny viewing screen we saw my shadow on the wall to the right of me. Wait, isn’t that impossible? The only lights that were on in the cavernous dimly lit room were behind her when she took the photo. Combined with the flash, that should have placed my shadow directly BEHIND me. Wouldn’t it? Here is the picture.
Someone had a good idea. “Go take another picture”. A couple of my staff walked over and stood in roughly the same spot. Morticia took another photo. Based on what we were seeing on the digital camera all the shadows were in the correct place. Everything appeared as it should – except a strange orb that seemed to hover above the head of one of my staff. We had seen unexplained orbs in several other pictures from that night so we weren’t that surprised.
We then wrapped up our search for the walking dead. It gave us much to talk about for the next week, both about what we found, and what we didn’t find. We were somewhat disappointed that we seemed not to encounter Sister Augusta as she would have been the prize. I was hoping to get a clear picture of our ghostly nun that we could mount on the wall like some trophy elk head. But it was not to be. A week later Morticia emailed all the photos to us.
We scanned through them one at a time and talked about what we saw. We carefully examined my picture with my walking shadow. To this day we cannot explain why my shadow seems to be at a right angle from the light source. Then we carefully looked at the next picture. Other than the orb nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
Then we saw it.
One of my staff screamed. Right out loud. A sudden chill went through the room as we saw it – something right from the very pit of hell. The photo contained something stranger than an orb, and something much more sinister. It was an outline of a man. A shadowy dead man. A man that had no business being in that place or on that picture. But he, or it, was there nonetheless.
Ghosts. The disembodied spirits of the dead. I still don’t know if they exist. During my entire time at The Rege, I continued to hear strange slams and noises. We all did. We also heard about other encounters with the ghost of Sister Augusta. I do know we encountered something that night, something that was very, very out of place. Something unexplainable.
Was it a ghost?
You be the judge.